Jeremiah 3:19a – How gladly would I treat you like sons. (NIV)
Galatians 4:5b – that we might receive the adoption as sons. (NKJV)
"I love you as a son!" These words fell on the ears of a little girl as she lay on her bed in a Christian hospital near her village. Her father had just told her that he valued her as much as he did a son. The little girl was deeply touched. Such honour was unheard of in her east Asian culture. Westerners might take offense at this father's words — unless they understood the father's thinking and his cultural context. Then they would know that he had bestowed a high honour on his daughter. This father was being radically countercultural. He had previously put his faith in Christ, and was now exhibiting new thinking.
Many biblical concepts, such as "sonship", come alive through a perspective of the culture. In the ancient near east, the role of the son was highly significant because inheritance was transferred from father to son. When the early Christian converts heard that through Christ they received "the full rights of sons" (Galatians 4:5b NIV) they would have understood that, regardless of their societal position or gender, they were adopted by God into a highly favoured position: they had become rightful heirs in the Father's household. Such honour would have brought inexpressible joy to countless ones who could never escape from their shame — be they poor and deformed, women and children, or outsiders and outcasts.
Biblical societies lived by a code of honour and shame. When Jesus presented the Beatitudes, God's honour code, His listeners would have understood that God honours the needy, thirsty, meek, merciful, pure, peacemakers, and so forth. These were the "blessed" ones, honoured by God, though dishonoured by society — rejected and even persecuted for associating with Christ. Jesus reassured them, saying, "Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven." (Matthew 5:12a NIV) In other words, they could accept their suffering joyfully by remembering that their full inheritance was yet to come.
Our society is not any more inclined to favour those who reflect God's honour code. Still, those are the very ones on whom God is eager to bestow "the full rights of sons": "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:10b NIV) In other words, theirs is "the full measure of the blessing of Christ." (Romans 15:29b NIV) That is joyful news, indeed!
Prayer: Lord, we pray for the courage to live by Your honour code, even if it means experiencing dishonour in this world. Above all, may we always bring honour to Your name. Amen.